The hotel heiress taking on Disney, one cute puppy at a time

The hotel heiress taking on Disney, one cute puppy at a time

Poman Lo has a life lesson for any young person weighing up whether to work in the family business; joining the firm doesn't have to mean giving up your personal career dreams.

The 37-year-old is heiress to the Century City Group, which owns Regal Hotels, one of Hong Kong's largest hotel operators, as well as property development and entertainment businesses.

Lo comes from a long family line rooted in real estate. Her late grandfather Lo Ying Shek co-founded Great Eagle Holdings and was also known locally as the tycoon of Hong Kong hotels. Several of his nine children stayed in the sector.

Eldest son, Ka Shui, continues to run Great Eagle, while second-eldest son, Yuk Sui, who is Poman's father, trained as an architect and worked for the Great Eagle before venturing out to form his own property empire, the Century City Group.

Another son, Vincent Lo, runs Shui On Land, which is best known for the Xintiandi development in Shanghai.

With property in her blood, Poman Lo joined the family business in 2000. But for someone who had excelled in her studies, graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in psychology from Duke University at the age of 19, the early years of moving through multiple departments in order to get operational perspective were challenging.

"At the beginning it was traumatic, because I did so well, was always top of class, I mean, I never had to struggle with any class," she told CNBC's Bernard Lo, who is not a relation, in an interview in Hong Kong. "But when you're in the real world it's a completely different game."

One of her biggest crises was during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak that hit Hong Kong in 2003. She recalled the pressure to cost-cut was intense, but said that the opportunity to streamline the organisation and enhance profit margins was valuable.

"Then, when the business took off and tourism arrivals surged, [that] helped to strengthen our business as well," Lo said.

Lo is now vice chairman of Century City Holdings and the Regal real estate investment trust, as well as vice chairman and group MD of Regal Hotels International, and an executive director of another family business, Paliburg Holdings.

But hotels and real estate aren't her only business interests. Through her own company, Century Innovative Technology (CIT), she aims to be the Oriental version of storied US entertainment firm Disney.

"I truly believe that the next Mickey Mouse should be born in China where, you know, 20 million babies are born a year," Lo said.

"Bodhi and Friends," featuring the animated puppy character Bodhi and his puppy friends, is at the centre of her "edutainment" empire that includes cartoons, learning aids and games. But when she conceived the idea almost a decade ago, it was purely a pet project

"Four years ago, I decided actually it is time to really devote more time and make it grow big and that's when we launched central innovative technology and we started with animation and gaming and edutainment content," Lo said

Although she was strongly advised to stay out of the very competitive Chinese entertainment market, "Bodhi and Friends" launched in prime time on CCTV Kids during the Chinese New Year of 2014 and has aired on over 70 channels nationwide. In 2015, it was one of the top prime time programs on both Hunan TV and CCTV.

Now, some 300,000 viewing-minutes and 130 episodes in, the adventure-seeking pups are still busy protecting the galaxy from evil invaders.

CIT runs separately from the family business, but Lo said her father had ambitious goals for her project.

"In fact, his expectations are sometimes higher than mine - he believes it should be a multi-billion company," she said.

Lo does, however, have her own big plans for CIT.

"We are launching some Bohdi cafes and also [an] interactive kitchen at our hotels in Hong Kong and when that becomes a proven success, we can roll that our across greater China," she said.

Further down the line, the hard-working heiress envisions Bodhi-themed hotel rooms and birthday parties, and eventually, and indoor theme park. Watch out, Disney.

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